Mesothelioma, also called “malignant mesothelioma”? or “epithelial mesothelioma,”? is a rare cancer affecting the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the body’s internal organs. In the United States, about 2,000 new mesothelioma cases are diagnosed each year. 

There are three different types of mesothelioma, and each is named after the part of the mesothelium it affects. First, mesothelioma that occurs in the tissue that surrounds the lung (pleura) is called pleural mesothelioma. Second, mesothelioma that occurs in the abdominal tissue (peritoneum) is called peritoneal mesothelioma. Finally, the rarest mesothelioma is that which occurs in the lining around the heart (pericardium). This is called pericardial mesothelioma. 

Unfortunately, all three types of mesothelioma are very serious and do not have a good outlook. Often, patients who are diagnosed with mesothelioma are told they may have no more than a year to live. However, mesothelioma treatment specialists at the leading cancer centers have reported better statistics.

Mesothelioma & Asbestos Exposure

The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral with long, thin, separable fibers that possess valuable heat-resistant properties. Up until the 1980’s, asbestos was used in almost every industry. However, U.S. government regulations now prohibit using asbestos in most products.

Even though asbestos has been regulated for several years, new mesothelioma cases are constantly being diagnosed. This is because malignant mesothelioma usually develops 20 to 50 years after a person is initially exposed to asbestos. As a result, people who were exposed to asbestos as long ago as the 1950s are still at risk for developing mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma Treatments

While there is no cure for mesothelioma, many treatment options exist. Traditionally, mesothelioma patients undergo chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, or a combination of two or more of these treatments. The purpose of traditional mesothelioma treatments may be to fight the cancer aggressively or to simply treat symptoms. 

Instead of (or in addition to) traditional mesothelioma treatments, patients may choose to participate in new or experimental treatments. For example, clinical trials offer mesothelioma patients the opportunity to benefit from innovative treatments at little or no cost. In addition, clinical trials help researchers find more effective treatments for future patients.   

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Published November 17, 2011 by